Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .vij. Gruelle a-forsydde - Gruel Reinforced

vij. Gruelle a-forsydde - Gruel Reinforced
Much to my shame, I am hesitant to admit that I have been avoiding interpreting this dish because the thought of a savory oatmeal soup like dish was not appealing to me. I as a diner would probably turn up my nose should such a dish be served to me. Somehow, what I had pictured in my head and what eventually ended up in the bowl were two entirely different things. I have been humbled and have learned a lesson.

Two recipes of note appear early in  Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 by Thomas Austin" for "gruel".  The thought of a thin porridge of soup consisting of a meal of grains, specifically oatmeal, in this case doesn't sound very appetizing, does it? Gruel can be made with any kind of meal; rye, oats, wheat or rice which has been boiled in water, milk or almond milk.  The difference between gruel and porridge is one of consistency.  I had porridge almost every day when was I growing up and I love it. My memories of a good hearty breakfast are broken only because there were a few times when money was tight that my oatmeal, cream of wheat or malt-o-meal was too thin, resulting in trying to choke down a flavorless food because "it was good for me".

I thought I would try to write a little bit on the history of gruel, its origins etc.  I'm sure the information is out there but it seems to be a history that is as old as the art of cooking itself. What I discovered is that that cereal preparations like congee (a rice based porridge) can trace its beginnings to Asia approximately 2500BC.

There is further archeological evidence that suggests that a hot, mush like cereal, similar to our modern day porridge, was eaten either at the end of the Stone Age or the beginning of the Neolithic period. Swiss archeological digs suggest that Stone Age settlements were mashing grains and mixing them water and then cooking upon a heated rock hardening the porridge into the earliest breads and cakes.

Of course, whenever you have water and grain mixed together and allowed to sour or ferment you have the beginnings of alcohol! The earliest documentable evidence of alcohol being brewed can be documented to Iran's Central Zagros Mountains approximately 3400 - 3000 BC. The oldest documented cocktail (mixed drink) can be traced to China, approximately 7000 BC and it is described as a mixture of "rice, honey, hawthorn fruit and/or grape".

My research proved to be fruitful in many ways.  When you eat your morning porridge, or gruel, remember this; in that spoonful of cereal and liquid, most likely flavored with butter, sugar or other spices, lies the beginning of civilization as we know it--beer and bread, the ability to farm, to move from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle to a farming lifestyle. More importantly, it allowed our population to grow, as children could be fed a nutritious meal while teething and women were able to birth more children in half the time.  I didn't find the answers I wanted, but the information I did find has made me appreciate more the humble origins of this dish.

.vij. Gruelle a-forsydde.—Take otemele, an grynd it smal, an sethe it [leaf 7.] wyl,*. [(wyl = well).] an porke þer-ynne, an pulle of þe swerde*. [sward, rind, skin.] an pyke owt þe bonys, an þan hewe it, an grynd it smal in a morter; þan neme þin*. [thine. ] grwel an do þer-to, þan strayne it þorw a straynour, an put it in a potte an sethe it a lytel, an salt it euene*. [equally. ]; an colour it wyth safroun, an serue forth rennyng.

vij - Gruelle a-forsydde. Take otemele, an grynd it smal, an sethe it wyl, (Note: (wyl = well).) an porke ther-ynne, an pulle of the swerde (Note: sward, rind, skin.) an pyke owt the bonys, an than hewe it, an grynd it smal in a morter; than neme thin (Note: thine) grwel an do ther-to, than strayne it thorw a straynour, an put it in a potte an sethe it a lytel, an salt it euene (Note: equally); an colour it wyth safroun, an serue forth rennyng.

7. Gruel Reinforced - Take oatmeal and grind it small, and cook it well and pork there-in, and pull off the skin and pick out the bones and then cut it, and grind it small in a morat; then take your gruel and do there-to, than strain it through a strainer, and put it in a pot and cook it a little, and sat it equally; and color it with saffron, and serve forth running.

Interpreted Recipe                                                      Serves 2 as main, 3-4 as side

1 cup water
1/2 cup stock (pork, chicken, vegetable, beef 50/50 chicken and beef)
2 tbsp. oats -- I used a mixture of steel cut and Scottish ground oats
1/4 pound of ground pork
pinch of saffron
salt and pepper to taste

I was fully prepared to dislike this dish--savory oatmeal?? ICKS! I was very pleasantly surprised with this dish. Not only how easy it was to prepare but how taste it truly was.  A few caveats, if you will.

First, this dish is most likely a lot meatier then what was eaten in period.  In fact, I would say that you could easily use one pound of meat for 16 diners and easily replicate what was found in period.

Secondly, I did not follow the instructions completely when I prepared this dish, I didn't strain this dish at all.  I probably should have, but it is my guess that the reason for the instruction to "strayne it thorw a straynour, an put it in a potte" had a lot more to do with the processing of the food, oats specifically, then it did with anything else.  I think it would have been very difficult to remove all of the hulls of the oats and then to store them without insects getting into the grain.  It is my belief that straining this dish was for the purpose of removal of those items that should not be present in the end product, including insect, hulls, bones, gristle etc.

To prepare the dish I simply threw all the ingredients together in a pot and let them boil together until the oats were completely cooked.  I used a mixture of steel cut and Scottish oats for this dish.  One cooks much quicker then the other and together they thickened the water and stock into a delicious broth. I was surprised at how much like rice the oats ended up tasting in the finished product.  As one of the taste testers pointed out "it isn't dazzling to look at" but it was delicious when served and I do urge you to consider using this dish as a pottage for any medieval meal, camp dinner or for a simple and relatively quick soup for every day.

Similar Recipes

Fourme of Curye [Rylands MS 7] (England, 1390)

.iij. For to make grewel eforced. Take grewel & do to the fyer withe gode flesch & seeth hit wele. Take the lyre of pork & grynd hit smal and drawe the grewel thorow a straynoure & colour hyt with safroun.
Liber cure cocorum [Sloane MS 1986] (England, 1430)

For gruel of fors. Fyrst take porke, wele þou hit sethe With otene grotes, þat ben so smethe. Whenne hit begynnes wele to alye, þou save of þe þynnest brothe þer by To streyne þy gruel, alle and summe. But furst take oute þy porke þou mun And hak hit smal and grynde hit clene. Cast hit to þo gruel þat streyned bene, Colour hit with safroune and sethe hit wele. For gruel of force serve hom at mele.

A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)

To mak grewelle enforced tak mary bones and freche brothe and mak grewelle and draw them throughe a strener then tak pork sodene tender and pick out the bones and the senewes and pille of the skyn and hew it and grind it smale in a mortair and temper it with the same gruelle that is drawen and mak it smothe and let it stond myche by freche pork and salt it and serue it.

To make grewell of forse. Take mary bones of Fresh beef And make goode grewell ther of then draw hit throwgh a streynner Take fayre porke tender sodyn take A way the skynne and the bonys and the senose Then grynde hit yn A morter small And tempyr hit vp with the same grewell that ys drawne make hit smoth let hit stand resonayll by þe flesh seson hit vp with salte and saferon then set hit to the fyre and let hit boyle And serue hit furth.